BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Nearly simultaneous car bombs struck two markets in predominantly Shiite areas of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 16 people. Iraq's health minister said about 150,000 have been killed by insurgents since the war started, giving the government's first overall casualty estimate.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Saddam Hussein could be executed before the end of the year if an appeals panel upholds his death sentence.
Prosecutors have said Iraq's appeals court is expected to rule by the middle of January on Saddam's guilty verdict and death sentence for the killings of more than 140 Shiite Muslims after an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982.
If the ruling is upheld, Iraqi officials have told The Associated Press, Iraq's three-man presidential council would allow Saddam's hanging. The execution must be carried out within 30 days of the appeals court's decision.
``The way I understand the law that we passed when we were in the National Assembly that the execution of the sentence should happen within a month, one month,'' al-Maliki said. ``I expect it to happen before the end of this year.''
At least 45 Iraqis were killed or found dead across the country on Thursday as violence showed no sign of ebbing.
Iraq's Health Minister Ali al-Shemari said about 150,000 Iraqis have been killed by insurgents since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
For every person killed about three have been wounded in violence since the war started in March 2003, al-Shemari told reporters during a visit to Vienna. He did not explain how he arrived at the figure, which is three times most other estimates.
The health minister also said the United States should hand Iraqis full control of its army and police force. Doing so, he said, would allow the Iraqi government to bring the violence under control within six months.
``The army of America didn't do its job ... they tie the hands of my government,'' al-Shemari said. ``They should hand us the power, we are a sovereign country,'' he said, adding that as a first step, U.S. soldiers should leave Iraq's cities.
Al-Shemari is a controversial figure and member of the movement of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Some U.S. officials have complained that the ministry has diverted supplies to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.
Last August U.S. troops arrested seven of his personal guards in a surprise pre-dawn raid on his office. The U.S. never explained the reason for the raid but Iraqi officials said Americans suspected the guards were part of a militia.
In northern Baghdad's Qahira district, a car bomb blew up outside shops as noontime shoppers were gathering, said police Lt. Ali Muhsin. He said seven people were killed, 27 were wounded and seven cars were destroyed.
Around the same time, a suicide bomber plowed his explosives-rigged vehicle into crowds gathered in a commercial complex for spare parts, killing at least nine people and wounding 27 in Baghdad's downtown Karradah district, police Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman said.
Iraqis welcomed Wednesday's announcement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as many blamed him for policy failures and scandals that have contributed to the daily sectarian carnage that continues to wrack their nation.
``Rumsfeld's resignation shows the scale of the mess the U.S. has made in Iraq,'' 44-year-old Oil Ministry worker Ibrahim Ali said. ``The efforts by American politicians to hide their failure are no longer working.''
Hard-line Sunni politician Hamid al-Mutlaq said Rumsfeld's departure was evidence of the downfall of those who engineered the invasion and what he called their ``evil project'' in Iraq.
Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has yet to comment on Rumsfeld's resignation, which followed a Democratic congressional triumph in midterm elections that was due in large part to U.S. voter dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.
With a special U.S. committee looking into new policy options for Iraq, many in Baghdad said they expect changes under Rumsfeld's expected replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates.
Democrats said they will use their new clout to force a change in Iraq policy and demand that President Bush start bringing troops home, though they are divided over what exactly to propose.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett warned against a precipitous withdrawal by the U.S.-led coalition.
She said recommendations from an independent U.S. commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III would be key to determining America and Britain's next moves.
``We are at a critical junction in which the fate of that country hangs in the balance. There is a very real risk of even greater instability and bloodshed than we've already seen,'' she said in London.
The man who runs Baghdad's main morgue said Thursday that it received approximately 1,600 bodies in October. Dr. Abdul-Razzaq al-Obaidi said that figure did not include victims of sectarian violence who are taken to Baghdad's many hospitals and whose deaths are not officially added to the death totals.
Iraqi security forces continue to be targeted by snipers, car bombs and kidnappers, with 39 policemen killed and 170 wounded from Nov. 3 to Nov. 9, Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf told reporters.
In other violence reported by police:
_ Assailants stormed a primary school as classes were starting in Muqdadiyah, north of Baghdad, killing a policeman, a guard and a student.
_ A bomb hidden in a sack exploded near a crowd of street vendors in central Baghdad's Tayarn square, killing three people and wounding 19.
_ A roadside bomb struck an Iraqi police patrol near a market in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing one policeman and two civilians.
_ A police colonel and his driver were shot to death along a highway in eastern Baghdad.
_ Gunmen in a speeding car gunned down a reputed former member of Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad
_ Two people were killed in a mortar attack on their car on Palestine street in eastern Baghdad.
_ Gunmen killed an Iraqi army captain and his wife in the northern city of Mosul.
_ A car bomb struck an Iraqi military convoy in northwestern Baghdad, killing two Iraqi soldiers killed and wounding four civilians.
The bodies of 11 apparent victims of roving sectarian death squads also were found dumped in Baghdad.
Such squads are believed to have strong links to Shiite militias sponsored by political parties whose support is crucial for the survival of al-Maliki's shaky government.
Al-Maliki rebuffed pressure from U.S. officials dispatched over recent days in a bid to pressure al-Maliki to quickly disband Shiite militia groups and death squads, a top aide to the prime minister said.
Al-Maliki told National Intelligence Director John Negroponte there was no way that could happen this year, but indicated that was on the agenda for 2007, the aide told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah warned that his Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, would withdraw from the political process if the militias aren't dissolved.
``We are under political pressure, and if these demands are not met we will abandon politics,'' Abdullah said. ``And this will leave us with only one alternative, which is carrying arms, and then it will be civil war.''